Newspaper article International New York Times

A Master of Childhood Dreams ; Hayao Miyazaki Adds Weight to Fairy Tales in His Animated Films

Newspaper article International New York Times

A Master of Childhood Dreams ; Hayao Miyazaki Adds Weight to Fairy Tales in His Animated Films

Article excerpt

The filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki is an expert at delivering tone and emotion, but it is hard to label exactly what makes his animated works so watchable.

The nominations will not be announced until Jan. 15, but it is safe to say that the greatest filmmaker associated with the 2015 Academy Awards has already received his Oscar, delivered a modest but revealing acceptance speech and flown home to Japan and, perhaps, retirement.

Hayao Miyazaki was given an honorary Oscar on Nov. 8 at the Governors Awards ceremony, one that he can put on the shelf next to the statuette he won in 2003 when his masterpiece, "Spirited Away," was named best animated feature. He got off a sly one-liner about his wife and paid an impish tribute to the Hollywood veteran Maureen O'Hara, a fellow Governors Award honoree along with Harry Belafonte and the French screenwriter Jean-Claude Carriere.

Between those two humorous notes, he was serious -- honest, elegiac, rueful -- on the subjects of animation and his country's history, which gave his brief remarks something in common with his films. "I think I've been lucky because I've been able to participate in the last era when we can make films with paper, pencils and film," he said through a translator. "Another fact of luck is that my country has not been at war for the 50 years that I have been making films. Of course, we've profited from wars, but we're very fortunate that we have not had to go to war ourselves."

Many things contribute to the enchantment of the 11 animated feature films Mr. Miyazaki has made, beginning with "The Castle of Cagliostro" in 1979. Their sheer pictorial beauty, in the lush, painterly style he developed during years of apprenticeship as a hands-on animator for film and television and as a comic book, or manga, artist. Their swooping, beautifully constructed action sequences, breathless scenes of racing, leaping and, always, flight - - in vintage airplanes, on broomsticks or mounted atop mysterious beasts. And, of course, the beasts, spirits, demons and familiars themselves, a seemingly inexhaustible menagerie of companions and impediments for his plucky young heroes (who are most often heroines).

None of these things are unique to Mr. Miyazaki, though he conjures them with an unmatched variety and generosity. It is hard to label what makes his films so memorable -- from the great ones, like "Spirited Away," which is a coming-of-age tale, and the ecological fables "Princess Mononoke" and "Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind," to less profound but still captivating works like "Kiki's Delivery Service" and the mesmerizing "My Neighbor Totoro." You know it when you feel it: the mastery of tone and emotion, embodied in every gesture, expression, movement and setting, that give the films a watchfulness, a thoughtfulness, an unaffected gravity. To watch a Miyazaki movie is to remember what it was like to be a smart and curious child.

Even at its high end, in the works of the Pixar studio or the director Henry Selick, the American children's movie (a category that these days is pretty much congruent with the animated feature film) approaches its young viewers in a different and less rewarding way. There is always a sense of the filmmakers looking across a divide at their audience, trying with various degrees of grace or desperation to create an entertainment for them, to figure out what will keep those allegedly hyperdistracted children from losing interest. …

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